Swiss Natya Sabha (SNS) is an association that brings Indian Classical dancers and dance connoisseurs across Switzerland onto a single platform in order to connect, collaborate and celebrate this rich art form. The SNS held its first symposium on September 18, 2021. Mohana Ramamoorthy tells us more.
Swiss Natya Sabha premiered the videos of the performances online at the end of October. They will be available for viewing till the end of November at the SNS YouTube channel.
The Invocation of ‘Mooshika Vahana’, a shloka (Sanskrit verse) on Lord Ganesha, followed by a shloka on goddess Saraswati, filled the air as all the dancers took to the stage, led by their eminent dance gurus in Switzerland. The performance marked an auspicious beginning to what turned out to be an incisive and thoroughly professional programme.
The presenters – experienced dancers (and dance academics) themselves – were passionate about their subjects. The presentations were well researched and comprehensive. The various dance styles and the contrasting nature of the characters they portrayed were clearly brought out in their depictions. Their willingness to experiment and to share the outcome with the audience made it an enjoyable learning experience for us all.
To begin with, the presentation by Dr Elisa Ganser and Ms Sarah Gasser entitled `The Karanas of Natyasastra’ which translates to `Treatise on Theater’ dealt with the first mention of dance as an art form. Dr Ganser explained how the Karanas (108 in total) are the fundamental techniques that form the basis of Natya, Indian dance as we know it today. The different aspects of Karanas, i.e. Sthanas (postures), Charis (feet movements), and Nritta hastas (hand gestures) were skillfully demonstrated by Ms Gasser.
Next, Ms Uthra Sankaran’s performance of `A Nayika’s Natakam’, dealt with the expressive aspect of Bharatanatyam. She competently compared and contrasted two Nayikas (lead female character/heroine) – an experienced character (Pragalba/Parakiya Nayika), and an inexperienced and innocent character (Mugdha Nayika). She depicted their characteristic responses to gossip about their romances. It was a thoroughly enjoyable performance as Uthra combined skilful Abhinaya (expression) and an impressive stage presence.
Moving on, the next presentation was by Dr Dipti Abilasha, titled `an insight into the world of Odissi’. In her well-researched presentation, she took the audience through the history of Odissi, a spiritual dance, starting with the first historical evidence of the dance of the ‘Odra Desha’ as seen in the sculptures of Udayagiri and Kandagiri caves. She described the Gotpua movement, where little boys, dressed as women, performed dances in front of deities and to which many of the current day Gurus belong. It was interesting to note that Odissi was established as one of the eight traditional national dances of India only in the 1950s.
Guru. Sujatha Venkatesh presented ‘Spirituality in a dancer’s dance’ at the symposium. She spoke eloquently about how dance can be a portal through which our finite lives can connect with the infinite being – God. Ms. Venkatesh spoke of dancers being in a privileged position whereby they can be ambassadors of peace and goodwill using their art to bring spirituality to their Rasikas, and to the world in general. Her disciple, Ms Laetitia Sieffert, personified this spirituality in her dance of ‘Devadi Deva Nataraja’. In her second performance of ‘Gajendra Moksha’, she showed us how faith is the cornerstone of spirituality.
Dr Pranitha Kamat and Ms Krithika Natarajan in their performances of `Bani Bharanam- a Celebration’ showed us how the ‘Kalakshetra’ and ‘Vazhuvoor bani’ (styles of Bharatanatyam) can be different and yet complimentary. Both these artists being proficient dancers made their different styles clear. While Dr Kamat’s performance emphasized precision footwork and understated elegance, Ms Natarajan’s performance was joyous and rich in Abhinaya.
`Dance and Theater’- a presentation by Ms Sowgandika Krishnan was well researched and passionately presented. Ms Krishnan, an acclaimed Bharatanatyam dancer and theater artist, has several plays and performances to her credit. She presented the role of dance in theater and also dance as a form of theater and the historical significance of the two art forms coming together. She expertly walked us through the aspects of costume, staging, and props.
Dr Sharmila Rao and her students presented `Health in Indian Dance’. The importance of correct posture and fitness during a dance and in preparation for it was brought home to us. Dr Rao, an exponent of Bharatanatyam herself, has studied the long-term effects of bad posture and incorrect poses and the importance of warm-ups and exercises to strengthen the body. She emphasized that through informed training, dancing can be healthy.
Ms Anvita Pandey and Ms Messaline Gerstein presented ’Samyukt – connected’ – a modern interpretation of Kathak. It was an eye-opener to the fact that spirituality lies in having faith in your dance, in experiments, and in being unafraid to present it to an audience. This presentation reminded me that dance is an evolving art form. As much as it is valued for its traditional aspect, it must also be appreciated for its ability to transform in order to appeal to all. Therefore, evolve, it must.
And on that positive note, I conclude this review and hope that it inspires us all to continue our support and patronage of Indian art forms in Switzerland.
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